Here is the next chapter of Eternal Darkness. Please don't forget to rate and comment.
The Eternal Master and a Homecoming
Richard noticed two things simultaneously; he was alive and he was freezing cold. He opened his eyes to find that he was lying in a pile of snow three feet deep and the thin coat he had been wearing did nothing to keep the cold from his body. Sitting up he found Daiya and Lythia next to him, also beginning to come to. They were sitting in a small wooded area he vaguely recognized and a massive full moon hung over his head, so close it felt like he could almost touch it if he tried. In the distance he could see light twinkling through the trees and the smell of cooking food filled the air was making his mouth water. It was a smell he recognized and he suddenly felt energized as he realized exactly where they were.
'Are we dead?' Lythia groaned and cupped her head in her small hands.
'Far from it. We're home,' Daiya answered and she had jumped to her feet as well. 'Smells like the chefs are preparing a meal for our return.'
'This is the palace, right?' Richard asked even though he was sure he knew the answer.
'Why don't you see for yourself,' Daiya giggled lightly.
They helped Lythia out of the snow and then began to quickly walk through the small woods towards the smells and lights. They had only made it around fifty feet when the trees were behind them and Richard saw a sight for sore eyes, the royal gardens just outside the palace. Another hundred feet ahead of them were the massive and spectacularly built white marble walls of the palace and Richard found that they were just outside the main ballroom where his engagement party had been held. The last time he had been in this location he wished he would never have to see the palace ever again, but now that he found himself back there he couldn't have been more happy. It was like stepping back into a wonderful and fantastic dream after waking up from it.
Torches were lit inside the immaculate white palace and Richard could see attendants and maids walking around as they went about their jobs. Daiya led them to a small staircase that led up to the second floor and they entered the palace through a door by the balcony. It felt a little strange to just be walking into the Royal Palace like that, especially after what had happened the last time he had been here. After an attack of that scale you would think the place would be full of guards, but Richard didn't see a single one. Then again the losses had been pretty bad from what he had seen so who knew how many were even left.
'Do you know where Reiea is?' Richard asked and both Daiya and Lythia nodded.
'We're to meet her in the throne room on our return. Just remember that Reiea is now the Queen of Alysia, so when you see her don't forget to show the proper respect.'
Richard kept that in mind as Daiya led them through the pristine white halls, not even sure if he would need to do it. With the way Reiea reacted around him he was sure that it would be her who had to keep her new position in mind and not tackle him to the ground in a hug. The last time they spoke hadn't gone so well though, and Richard began to wonder how she would receive his return. Back during his engagement party he had yelled at the poor girl when she tried to get him to run away with her and he had just left her as she stood in the cold crying. It wasn't one of his proudest moments.
They made their way down to the ground floor of the palace and passed a few maids who were busy cleaning up an old suit of armor and didn't even notice them pass. Richard noticed that they were heading towards the main hall and he realized that he had never actually been to the throne room before, so he didn't know what he would find. He was expecting some kind of massive room with a red carpet leading through rows of seats and ending at a massive golden throne that sat atop a raised platform on the far end of the room. He was also expecting marble pillars the size of telephone poles jutting out every ten or so feet and golden chandeliers hanging high on the ceiling, hundreds of lit candles providing light. What he found was not like that at all.
When Daiya pushed open the heavy marble doors and stepped in Richard found himself standing in a smaller room than he had expected. There were no chandeliers, no pillars, no seats, and no raised platform holding a massive and ornate golden throne. There was a red carpet however. Besides that the room almost seemed to be empty and Richard did a quick sweep but only noticed colorful and large paintings hanging from the wall. At the far end of the room he saw an ornate looking seat but it was made from some kind of smooth polished black stone that shimmered in the torchlight of the room. Sitting in that chair with her small hands folded on her lap was a small girl around the age of sixteen, dressed in a long white nightgown with her long brown hair draping over her small and slender shoulders. Standing on either side of her were two women with hard looks on their faces and they were wearing flowing black robes with gold trimming that Richard recognized as a mages usual clothing. They were probably her personal guard.
Daiya led the way along the red carpet and when they were within fifteen feet of Reiea both her and Lythia fell to one knee and bowed their head deeply. At first Richard hesitated as he looked into the girls face and noticed something he had never seen in her eyes before, a sense of maturity. He quickly realized he was being rude and bent down on one knee as well, bowing his head as far as it would go. He thought it would feel odd bowing to the annoying princess that had been obsessed with him, but now that he was actually doing it he found that it almost felt normal. Even though he had only been gone for less than three months it felt like Reiea had done a lot of growing up and she exuded confidence and power.
'We've returned, your majesty,' Lythia spoke and her voice was filled with pride as she and Daiya had done what they had been sent for. 'We located him and brought him back as per your request.'
'Stand, let me get a look at all of you,' Reiea spoke and her voice was even regal now. It was like dealing with a totally different person. 'Were there any problems with your trip?'
'Not really,' Daiya answered and Richard knew she was thinking about how she had tried really hard to convince him to return. 'We did see a lot of strange things though. Things you couldn't imagine.'
'You'll have to tell me about these things some other time, we have more pressing matters to discuss. How are you, Richard?' she asked him directly and Richard found himself stuttering before he could answer.
'F… f… fine, your majesty. A little confused, but fine.'
'It would be something if you weren't confused, and I will do my best to help you with that as much as possible. It's good to see you back though.'
'It's good to be back,' he admitted sheepishly and found he meant that from the bottom of his heart. Just even being back in the palace felt like he was already home and he couldn't wait to get back to the academy.
'Lythia, why don't you go down to the dining room and get something hot to eat while I speak with these two for a moment. Daiya will be joining you in a moment.'
Lythia bowed at the waist and said a quick thank you before turning on her heel and marching from the room. The heavy doors closed behind her a second later and Reiea turned to her body guards and nodded to them. They both looked at one another and then turned and stalked from the room at the same time, exiting from doors on either side of the black throne. Once the three of them were alone Reiea stood up and took a few steps closer to Richard and Daiya.
'Have you thought about what we discussed, Daiya?' she asked the Dark Elf beauty.
'Yes, I have. I still stand by what I said before.'
'Very well,' Queen Reiea sighed and Richard noticed something familiar in the sound of that sigh that told him they were talking about him. 'Only you and my cousins know the truth about Richard, and everyone has already agreed to keep it a secret. So he will return to being Lord Richard Proud, a first year student at the Majou Academy for Magic and your fiancé.'
'Wait, what?!' Richard yelled as the words still hung in the cool air of the chamber. 'But I'm not a Proud! That was just a story to keep people asking too many questions!'
'Calm down, Richard,' both women said at once and he suddenly felt outnumbered.
'My mother, the previous Queen, had documents made that officially make you the son of Aura Proud in the eyes of the kingdom. You are her son, that much has already been determined. We also wish to continue protecting the secret of where you really come from and this was already established. To change it now would only make things more complicated. You will retain your title and Daiya here has agreed to keep you as her fiancé. Do you have a problem with that?'
Reiea flashed him a look that almost looked like she was daring him to say that he did have a problem with what she was saying. He was reminded that she had been against his engagement to Daiya and he wondered if it still bothered her and she just couldn't say it because she was now the Queen. The only thing keeping from her acting on her misplaced feelings for him before had been that she believed they were related by blood, which she now knew wasn't true. He could only imagine what she would cook up if he decided not to remain as the Dark Elf Princess' fiancé.
'Uh… no, your majesty,' he answered lamely.
'Very well,' the girl sighed and then turned to face Daiya once more. 'You may go and join Lythia for dinner. I have much to discuss with Richard.'
Daiya nodded and then stepped closer to Richard. She planted a quick kiss on his cheek that took him by surprise and he noticed that Reiea was trying to conceal a scowl. After that Daiya exited the room and left Richard standing alone with the new Queen. Reiea peered at him and then motioned for him to follow her as she walked towards a door one of her guards had walked through. Richard followed her and quickly found himself in a large and lavish room filled with multiple plush couches and sofas, some elegant wooden tables, a roaring fire in a fireplace, and a large dinner table that was covered in maps, letters, and random papers.
'Would you like some tea?' she asked him and pointed to a steaming flowery pot on a table. One of the guards must have had it prepared before leaving and Richard quickly nodded, realizing he actually missed the taste of this worlds tea. Before coming there he hadn't been a big tea drinker, in fact he had only had it a few times on earth and hated it. The stuff they produced here was amazing though, and he could really use a large cup to warm up his body right now.
Reiea poured him a steaming cup and handed it to him gently before moving over to the large dining room table that was hidden beneath a mountain of paper and parchment. For a few moments she rummaged through some of these documents and didn't say a word, which had Richard worried a bit. It was unusual seeing her act this way and it would take him a while to get used to this new girl he saw before him. She looked more like her mother than she did her own self now.
'Um, Your Majesty?' he said softly when she still hadn't said anything to him.
'Please just call me Reiea whenever we are in private,' she sighed and pulled a loose piece of parchment from beneath a rather large pile.
'Is that really appropriate?' he asked and walked closer to the table she stood in front of.
'For you, yes. Tell me, what do you know of the Great War?'
'The Great War. It took place almost two thousand years ago and nearly destroyed the entire continent. I'm sure you learned about it at the academy while you were there.'
'I did, but I don't see what this has to do with you bringing me back,' he answered but Reiea flashed him an annoyed look so he figured he would indulge her odd tangent. 'Some kind of evil monster started the war and nearly destroyed all the kingdoms on the continent. But then the Dark Elves and a coalition between the other kingdoms finally managed to defeat them and kill the monster with the help of the three great heroes.'
'Do you know the name of these heroes?' Reiea asked him and Richard had to search his mind hard to locate the answers he had learned over five months ago.
'Um, there was the First King, the Lady of Dragons, and then the Eternal Master… right?'
'Did Aura ever tell you their real names, and not just what we call them today?' she asked and Richard shook his head, not sure where any of this was going. 'The First King was my ancestor, King Wales. The Lady of Dragons was Aura's ancestor, Lady Monica Rysto. And the Eternal Master's name was General Roku… your ancestor.'
'Come again?' Richard said in nothing more than a whisper.
'Let me see your bracer, please.'
Richard pulled his bag off his shoulder and reached in to pull out the golden piece, handing the dented form to Reiea like she asked. She held it to her face for a moment and then pulled out a sheet of parchment and flattened it out in front of him.
'This is a document my mother found within the First King's private journal that talked about the focus General Roku used. See the drawing here,' she explained and pointed to a rough sketch of a bracer with the infinity symbol on it, 'it's the exact same mark that's on your focus. It was the Eternal Masters symbol that he adopted during the first few months of the war. You use the same focus he used, Richard. It's a powerful artifact that was probably passed down through your family for generations.'
Richard picked up the parchment with the intricate writing and crude drawing and stared at it for a moment. 'I'll admit that it looks the same, but wouldn't this be impossible? How can I be related to him in any way when I was born on earth and he died here during the war?'
'Who's to say that he died in that final battle?' Reiea asked him and then handed back his bracer. 'While yes, no one knows what happened in Roku's fight against the enemy leader, it was never assumed that he died there. There was no body and according to King Wales there was a note written on the wall after the battle. Roku was and is still considered to be the strongest mage who ever lived, and King Wales believed he was dabbling with teleportation magic in his youth; trying to extend the range and power of the spell. The coin Daiya and Lythia used to go to your world was actually an artifact that Roku created and was sealed away after his disappearance by the King. So the General already had the ability to go to your world, and he might have done that after his battle. You see it would have been a brutal fight and one of the enemy leaders abilities was to corrupt the magic within a person until it ended up killing them. Maybe Roku fled from a world full of magic so he wouldn't die.'
'Daiya did say that magic was extremely weak on Earth,' Richard whispered and his brain was struggling to keep up with everything he was being told. Even if the coin belonged to the Eternal Master that still didn't answer a million other questions.
'You still don't believe the truth, do you?' Reiea asked him with a sigh and then began to shuffle through the papers in front of her. 'Upon your arrival my mother recognized the mark on your bracer from something she had read in our ancestors journal, so she began to collect every bit of information on it that she could find. She located another entry in the journal that spoke of a strange and powerful magic that Roku himself created out of nothing. You see, while Roku was a very powerful mage, he had no affinity to elemental magic and could only use Arcane Magic. People who can't cast elemental magic are considered weak even today, so Roku wanted to prove that he was strong like his best friends, Prince Wales and Lady Monica. So at the age of thirteen he had created and mastered a new form of magic that only he could control. This magic was known as Light Magic. The very same form you use.'
'So just because I have a bracer that looks like his and that I can cast the same kind of magic as him, you think I'm his descendant?' he asked in disbelief and Reiea nodded with a grim smile.
'According to my mother's letter to me, Light Magic is part of your blood. King Wales tried to get his friend to teach him how to wield this powerful magic, but after fifteen years he couldn't so much as grasp at it. It is a part of who you are, Richard. Only one person in history has been able to use it besides you, and that was General Roku,' she explained as Richard subconsciously gripped his power within his body. He could feel it surging through him and he could tell, like he had before, that it was just as much a part of him as his heart was. He was the magic and the magic was him.
'What about… about the woman who sent me back to Earth? Her focus was a bracer just like mine, only it was on the right arm instead of the left,' he asked and even he knew he was grasping at straws here. It was just too hard to believe that his ancestor was this powerful mage that had saved the entire world.
'Hmm, that is troubling,' Daiya mused and she was once again shifting through the papers on the desk, 'but easy to answer part of the question. From my own personal research I have found that Roku was known for using two focuses, a golden bracer on each arm. So for there to be another one floating around out there wouldn't be that surprising. As for how this woman might have gotten it, well I don't have any idea. I assumed that Princess Celia had been in possession of the right focus when she left the kingdom and disappeared.'
'Why would the kings younger sister have something like that?'
'She and the Eternal Master had a secret relationship,' the young Queen answered and a blush ran through her cheeks as she spoke. 'I'm sure you learned of the scandal involving Celia, about how she had a child from an unknown father; well Roku was the father. She left a note to her brother when she left telling him the truth about how she and Roku had been meeting in secret for many years. She was in love with the General and once he disappeared she had a hard time moving on, especially since she had his child. After that she completely disappears and nothing more is heard about her. It is assumed that she and her child lived their lives in solitude and eventually died.'
Richard put his now cold tea down and sat heavily in a wooden chair near the table. He rubbed both hands over his face and sighed deeply as he tried to wrap his mind over everything. Everything he had learned about the three great heroes had just been shattered and Reiea was telling him everything they taught about them in school was just lies. It also didn't help that he was apparently related to one of the heroes through a chain of nearly impossible coincidences. You couldn't get any weirder than that, and it was only his first night back in this world.
'Your real home is here, Richard,' Reiea spoke softly and took a few steps closer to him. 'All the evidence my mother and I have found points to the truth, that you are the descendant of the Eternal Master. In my mother's letter she suggested that I didn't tell you this just yet. She thought it would be too much for you to handle, but I thought you were stronger than that. You had the right to know who you really are and why you can use magic when you shouldn't be able to.'
'You've really grown up, Reiea,' Richard remarked and the girl smiled at him sweetly. 'I hardly recognize you.'
'You seem surprised; isn't that what you said I should do?'
'Yeah… right… sorry about that. I wasn't in a very good place when I said all those things to you, and I apologize for it.'
'Don't be,' she said and Richard couldn't see any hint that she was just saying that, 'you were right. I wasn't acting the way I should and I am sorry for being such a burden to you.'
'You weren't a burden…'
'Yes, I was. I clung to you like my life depended on it and I never realized that you could never feel for me the way I felt for you because of it. It just took my mother's death to realize how weak of a person I really was. But now… now I've accepted my mother's throne and the responsibilities that go with it. I have to be a better person not only for myself but the kingdom as whole. I hope that you and I can still be friends though.'
Richard stood up and stepped closer to the girl who used to bug him all the time, holding his arms out. He pulled her into a quick hug and heard her sigh softly into his shoulder. He couldn't imagine how hard her life had gotten since he left and he was amazed she was as strong as she was now. He gently patted her small back and took a step away, looking her directly in the eyes.
'I would be honored to be your friend. If there's anything you need don't hesitate to ask. Okay?'
'I'm glad you offered, because there is something I need from you,' she answered and moved away from Richard. She sorted through yet another pile of papers and then found a small envelope that was sealed by wax with the Royal Seal pressed into it. She held it out to Richard and said, 'I need you to deliver this to your mother tonight at the school. It's a letter of employment to become my personal advisor, a position she has repeatedly turned down. I need you to convince her to accept it because I could use her now more than ever.'
'Why has she rejected the offer?'
'She believes that if she takes the job she'll have to leave her teaching position at the academy and she doesn't want to do that. She loves teaching. But I don't want her to have to give that up, so I've made it so she can be my advisor without having to leave.'
Richard nodded and took the envelope she held to him and put it in his backpack before zipping it up again. 'I'll do my best to change her mind.'
'There's also one other thing…' she said softly and averted her eyes, 'she doesn't know that I sent Daiya and Lythia to bring you back, so she probably won't be happy when she sees you. It will probably make it harder for her to accept my offer, but I have faith you can do it. She really loves you, you know?'
'I've been told,' he replied with a gentle smile.
With their meeting done, Reiea told Richard to go and join the others in the dining room for a hot meal and that they would be provided transport back to the academy afterwards. Richard thanked her and then left, wondering when he would end up seeing her again. He kind of liked this new Reiea and he was sure that she would make a great Queen, one that the people loved and respected. She had already come such a long way in such a short time that Richard doubted there was anything she couldn't do.
Lythia and Daiya were waiting for him in the dining hall and had already eaten by the time he arrived. They seemed curious about what he and the Queen had spoken about but neither of them asked him, figuring he would tell them on his own if he was allowed. He probably would tell them, but not right now. There was so much swirling around in his head that he was having trouble keeping track of everything that had been said. Although, he couldn't wait to see the look on Lythia's face when he told her that he was the descendant of the Eternal Master. It almost made him wish he owned a camera and had brought it with him, just to immortalize that look.
He did tell them about going to see Aura and giving her a letter from the Queen and neither of the women seemed very stoked about that. Especially Lythia. She had gone against her sisters wishes and traveled to a world far away to bring someone back that Aura said should be left alone. She was probably going to catch hell for it, but in her defense it sounded like she hadn't even wanted to go; Daiya and Reiea had forced her into it in the middle of the night or something like that.
Richard ate in silence at first, both women watching him as they waited. Finally the staring and silence got too much for him to handle and he tried to strike up a conversation. 'So, did Coni end up winning the tournament?'
'It was postponed,' Lythia answered like it was obvious that he should know.
'When we left the arena during our match word began to spread about what was happening at the palace. So the school called the next match off and it's been that way ever since. With the Queens death no one is sure when or if it will be finished,' Daiya explained in more detail than Lythia was willing to give.
'Oh, that sucks,' he said gently and felt like an idiot for bringing it up, 'at least Agnes didn't go on to win, right?'
'Coni would have beaten her again, just like last year,' Lythia beamed with pride in her sister and they all laughed for a moment.
'If the tournament is brought back to finish it then I'm glad I'll have my opponent back. I would have hated to win because you weren't here to fight me,' Daiya giggled gently and Richard couldn't help but smile. 'You should hurry up and finish eating though; you need to change those weird clothes before we go to the academy. We want you to be presentable for when you see Aura again.'
Richard finished his hot stew quickly and then was led to a small room where he could change out of his jeans, hoody, and jacket that had all come from earth. A set of regal looking clothes had been laid out for him and included a pair of dark black slacks, a white dress shirt, a black button up jacket, and a thick black winter cloak emblazoned with the Proud family crest. He stuffed the clothes he had taken off into his bag and then left, meeting Lythia and Daiya out front where a large and very luxurious carriage waited.
It took them two and a half hours to reach the gates of the Majou Academy for Magic and Richard was surprised to see that most of the tower windows of the eight towers held no lights in them. Only the largest tower, the one at the very entrance to the academy that served as offices, living quarters, and work space for all the staff that worked and lived there, had torch light flickering through the windows. There weren't many though and Richard wondered if everyone had gone to bed, but from the way he remembered it the academy was pretty lively long into the night so it didn't make sense that it felt so dead right now.
Richard, Daiya, and Lythia entered the main tower and climbed the winding marble staircase to the twelfth floor where some of the professors lived. Aura's private room was on the other side of the tower from the staircase and as they made their way there Richard was surprised to see most of the rooms with open doors and no one living in them. He was going to ask one of the women what was going on but they had already reached Aura's room and were knocking on it before he could get the chance. Just on the other side of the door Richard could hear a soft sigh and then the sound of heels clacking against the marble floor as the person got closer to the door, opening it a second later.
'Uh… hi…' Richard said sheepishly when Aura opened the door and stood in front of the three students. She was dressed in a long flowing black nightgown and her long blonde hair was tied back in a loose pony tail that was draped over one of her shoulders. When her eyes fell on him they bulged in their sockets and a loud gasp escaped her open lips.
As quickly as she had looked at him Aura looked at both Lythia and Daiya with an outraged expression and before anyone could stop her she slapped Daiya full on the face, the sound splitting through the quiet tower like gunfire. Everyone stood there stunned, not sure what to do or say and Richard actually felt Lythia take a step back as she was afraid she was next.
'What the hell have you done?!' Aura demanded loudly and was totally focused on the Dark Elf Princess who stood before her with a shocked expression. 'What did I tell you? Did I not say to leave him alone and let him live his own life?'
'A… A… Aura…' Lythia stumbled over the name and she trembled beside Richard.
'I don't want to hear another word come out of your mouth!' Aura growled and turned to face her terrified younger sister with pure rage in her eyes. 'Get your ass back to the capital and wait for me at home! GO! NOW!'
Lythia turned on her heel and ran back towards the stairs as fast as she could before her sister got mad enough to smack her too. Richard was sure he could hear her crying as she rushed away and he hoped she would be okay. Then again, it was Lythia they were talking about here. She was the most stubborn person he knew and if anyone could get over something like that it would be her. Still, it was pretty hard to watch.
'In my room! NOW!' Aura roared once more and stood aside so both Daiya and Richard could enter the beautifully decorated room, albeit reluctantly. The moment they were a safe distance away from the entrance, Aura slammed the door shut so hard that objects on her dresser wobbled dangerously.
'Aura,' Richard said as he furiously tried of something that could defuse the situation. He knew she would be mad, but he didn't expect it to be quite this bad. He had never seen her so angry before and he never wanted to again. 'It was my decision to come back. No one forced me, okay?'
'Please don't speak, Richard,' she seethed but didn't raise her voice to him. She turned to face Daiya once more and then set into tearing her apart. 'Aren't you the smartest student at this school? How could you be so stupid?! We are at war Daiya! WAR! And you just dragged Richard right into the middle of it! I wanted him to live in peace away from all of this! This isn't his torch to carry! Do you not understand that?!'
Richard could tell from the look in Aura's eyes that she was seriously contemplating hitting the princess again so he quickly stepped between them and raised both arms out at his sides. Aura glared at him angrily for a moment but then took a deep breath and stepped back to show she was in control of her anger.
'You're wrong, Aura,' he said gently but didn't move away from Daiya, 'this is my torch to bear, because you and your sisters carry it as well. I knew about the war and all the problems before I made my decision to come back, so no one can claim that I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I came back because I couldn't just stand aside while everyone I know and loved fought for their lives. Do you really think a member of the Proud family can be that selfish?'
'Richard…' the tall blonde woman breathed and Richard could see that he had taken all the wind out of her sails.
'Am I not like a son to you?'
'Of course! How could you think you weren't?'
'You are like a mother to me, the mother I never had but always wished for. Now you can be angry at Daiya and Lythia for going to my world, and you can even be mad at Queen Reiea for sending them, but I will not have you put all the blame on them for me coming back. It was my decision and mine alone; so if you have anything you want to say about that then say it to me. Just know that I came back for all of you.'
A few tears trickled down Aura's smooth and beautiful pale face as she stared at him, her mouth open and a sad painting her expressions. Before he realized it she was pulling him into a massive bear hug that threatened to crack his ribs, sobbing silently into his ear as she let all of her emotions out in that one moment. Richard quickly hugged her back while hoping it would end soon; it was getting hard for him to breath.
'I missed you,' she breathed and Richard found himself smiling at those words.
'I missed you too, mom.'
Aura released him a moment later and he was able to suck in a large breath of air that stopped his head from spinning. She glanced back at Daiya angrily for a moment but then her expression softened slightly and she nodded her head as if to say she was sorry for hitting her. To her credit, Daiya smiled at her softly and said nothing about it. Aura quickly wiped the tears from her eyes and then moved back into her room, motioning for them to take a seat on a small couch while she grabbed herself a strong wooden chair.
'Do you realize what you are getting yourself into by coming back? I mean really getting yourself into?' Aura asked as Richard sat down on the soft couch and put his backpack beside it. 'First of all, there is no guarantee that you can ever go home again. You might be stuck here for the rest of your life. Is that something you thought about before deciding?'
'I felt more at home here in the three months I attended this academy then I did in my whole life back on my world; so yes I did take that into consideration,' he answered and Aura looked at him like she didn’t completely believe what he was telling her.
'She told you, didn't she?'
'If you mean that… then yes,' he said and was thankful that she hadn't just come out and said it while Daiya was there. He would tell her sometime but not right now. It didn't seem like she was going to just stand for that though and she quickly looked at him and knew he was hiding something.
'Told you what?' she inquired stiffly.
'Actually, Daiya, I'm glad you're here,' Aura interrupted thankfully. 'A letter from your father arrived yesterday asking that you return home during the remainder of the break. Something to do with the new hatchlings giving the trainers problems and they requested your aid.'
'This again?' the young woman groaned and now it was Richard's turn to look at her funny. 'He's just trying to get me there so he can convince me to leave the academy in light of the war. If I go it will just be trouble.'
'It's still your duty as his daughter and the crown princess of Elothia to help out when you are asked,' Aura countered, 'especially in a time of war. Your country may not be in this war right now but that doesn't mean you won't at one time. Are you not a Dragoon Knight?'
'Yes…' Daiya grumbled and her sense of duty and honor was overriding her desire to remain at the school. 'Fine, I'll go see what's needed of me; but I will not leave this school until I have graduated. So don't empty my room out when I am gone.'
'There will always be a spot here for you, Daiya. Your escort back should arrive early tomorrow morning so I suggest you get some sleep. Richard and I need to talk some more.'
Daiya stood and nodded before turning and leaving. It was easy to read that she wasn't happy about leaving the room but she probably understood that he and Aura had a lot to discuss in private. Before she closed the door she turned back to face Richard and Aura, 'Come visit. My father will surely greet you as honored guests during break.' With that she closed the door behind her and Richard could hear her walking down the hall.
'I take it the two of you are still engaged?' Aura asked a second later and Richard blushed slightly.
'That's what Reiea said,' he answered quickly and relaxed a little on the couch. 'I suppose coming up with a whole new lie about who I am would be too much work and Daiya agreed that it's best to continue this way.'
'Weren't you the one who told me that being forced to marry someone wasn't right?' Aura mused with a small smile. 'Yes, I remember you said that when I first told you about that law. You were also the one who got mad when you learned it was Daiya you would be engaged to.'
'Uh, yeah… I was just upset that she never told me she was trying to acquire my marriage rights. It's not like I have anything against her.'
'Oh how little you know. She was never on the list, Richard. She was the list. Queen Lystia was just waiting for the go ahead from Daiya before doing anything. It was her decision, not her fathers, to become engaged to you; and she only decided after getting to know you better,' Aura explained but then quickly waved her hand. 'But that's not what we should be talking about right now. So now that you know the truth about your lineage, what do you plan on doing?'
'The same thing I was doing before I left; going to school and learning about magic. And anything else that is required of me as your son.'
Aura sighed and rubbed her eyes as she sat forward in her chair. She looked at Richard like he had lost his mind but then seemed to decide that there was nothing she could do about it. 'You'll get a lot more than you asked for. You will still be seen as Lord Proud, fiancé to Princess Daiya and next in line to the throne since I abdicated my chance at it. You have no legitimate claim to the throne but only the ones in this family will know that, so you will still have to act like you could become the King. That means marrying who you are told to marry, making public appearances, and going through military training.'
'Wow…' Richard breathed, 'that's intense…'
'None of this will happen until you have graduated from this academy, but I thought you should know. I'm sure Reiea also has some plans for you seeing how she used a dangerous artifact just to bring you back, so be careful of that.'
That reminded Richard about what Reiea had asked of him and he quickly grabbed his backpack from the ground and fished out the sealed envelope she had given him. He handed it to Aura and she looked at it with a knowing glint in her eyes. For a moment Richard thought she wasn't going to accept it, but after a few tense moments she grabbed it hastily from his hand and held it tightly in hers. She made no attempt to open it though.
'Reiea asked me to deliver that too you. She really wants you to be her advisor.'
'I'm well aware, but I really don't have time for it,' she answered in a tight voice and Richard wondered if they had had a falling out while he was gone. 'Classes will be starting up again in a week's time and I have to prepare new lessons as the classes change over.'
'She said she wouldn't let it interfere with your job here. Besides, don't you think you should help her out? We're at war and the head of the kingdom is a sixteen year old girl who is probably feeling very lost. I really think you should accept it. You were just talking to Daiya about duty weren't you? Aren't you the Daughter of Arcane and a powerful mage in the kingdom of Alysia? Don't you have to do whatever you can to help protect this country?'
Aura groaned but there was a hint of a smile on her pale face. 'You're just repeating everything I once told you about being a mage, and you're laying it on pretty thick. But you are right about one thing; I don't have any other choice but to accept the position now. If I didn't then there would be nothing stopping Reiea from using you for whatever she wanted, and I really don't think that would be good for either of you or the country. So I'll accept it. Now, I'm sure you could use some rest so I'll have a carriage prepared to take you home.'
'I can't stay here?' he asked as Aura stood up and stretched out like a cat.
'The academy is on break so students aren't normally supposed to remain in their dorms during that time. There's also the fact that you've been gone for three months and you room was cleaned out because I didn't think you'd ever come back here. You'll join Coni and Lythia at the mansion and I'll go pay the Queen a visit,' she answered and then led him out of the room.
Richard and Aura shared a carriage back to the capital and she had it drop her off at the palace before sending Richard on his way. Apparently the Proud family owned a rather large estate in the city, a building that had been in their family for generations. It was mostly used now for school breaks and summer vacation because all three sisters attended the academy for one reason or another. Richard wasn't sure what to expect when the carriage rolled through the iron wrought front gate but what he saw was beyond his wildest dreams. He had known they were a very wealthy family being they were royalty, but he hadn't expected a building that rivaled the palace.
It was made entirely of white stone and towered five stories high, a single tower attached on the east side with a large flag with the family crest sewn onto it. The front hall was large enough to fit three of Richard's school rooms into and had all the trimmings; large mirrors, chandeliers, beautiful paintings, ancient vases, golden tables and stands, and enough suits of armor on display to arm a small task force. A maid met him at the front door and without asking a single question she led him further into the massive mansion.
'Is that you, Richard?' he heard a voice call from a room on the second floor. He turned towards the voice and found Coni sitting by a large fire with a leather tome on her lap and a look of shock on her face. 'My god, it is!'
'Hi,' he said and walked into the doorway of the room, 'Aura sent me over while she's at the palace visiting the Queen. It's uh… it's been a while.'
Coni closed the book and put it on the seat beside her. She stood up and walked towards him slowly, a look on her face that was hard to read and her body posture was rigid. She stood two feet away from him and just stared at him like she was afraid if she blinked he would disappear.
'I didn't think I'd ever see you again,' she said in a hard tone and Richard feared he was about to get a lecture about how lying was wrong. 'It makes sense now; I was wondering where Daiya and Lythia had gotten off to. It was strange that both of them just disappeared.'
'Yeah, they kinda popped up in my neck of the woods. Listen, I'm sorry about not telling you who I really was and where I was from.'
A smirk crossed Coni's face and she turned around and sat down on the couch once more, pulling the tome back into her hands. 'I don't know what you're talking about,' she remarked without looking at him, 'but thank you for going to make sure Aura was alright during the assault on the palace. Take any room that is available on the third floor.'
With that she dove back into her book and pretended he wasn't still standing there at the door with a dumb look on his face. Figuring that was his cue to leave her alone, Richard turned and followed the maid that had been leading him before. He was shown to a massive room on the third floor and told that breakfast would be served at eight the next morning. If he needed anything he was supposed to call out and one of the staff working in the mansion would attend to whatever needs he had.
Richard didn't even bother unpacking his bag before he fell onto the soft down bed and felt his weariness seep into his brain. He hadn't really done much that day but it was amazing how tired you felt after travelling across the universe like he had. He had originally wanted to try and stay awake to greet Aura when she got home and see how her meeting with Reiea had gone, but after only a few minutes of lying on the comfortable bed he forgot all about it. He ended up falling asleep still fully clothed and was dead to the world for close to eleven hours.
He awoke the next morning feeling very refreshed and ready to take on the world, but his stomach growled and reminded him that he had other things to do before that. He quickly headed down to the dining room where the maid had said breakfast was going to be served and hoped he wasn't too late and had already missed it; he had slept in by half an hour after all. When he arrived at the dining hall he quickly found that people were still eating and that one of them was currently charging at him with a high pitched squeal right before she latched onto him by the neck.
'Richard!' Lisbeth screamed into his ear and hugged him savagely, 'Lythia said you were back!'
Richard quickly pulled the excited girl off of him and smiled at her while she beamed at him. 'Lisbeth! What are you doing here?'
'She's staying with us over break because her parents hate her,' Lythia said from the table. Richard looked out on the room and found the whole family sitting down to a hot breakfast. Lythia was prodding at something on her plate, Coni nibbling at a piece of fruit while reading the same book from last night, and Aura was just finishing up her meal while watching what was going on around her.
'Lythia invited me to stay over for a while,' Lisbeth whispered so the girl who was grumpy for the first few hours after waking up couldn't hear. 'I'm so glad to see that you're safe! It must have been horrible for you being held captive by those criminals!'
'Wha-' he began to question but was cut off by a fierce glare from Aura. 'I'd uh… I'd rather just forget about it. The good news is that I am back and I am alright.'
'Well I'm glad to see you back. School wasn't the same without you. Right Lythia?' Lisbeth asked but the only response she got from Lythia was a grunt and a growl and made her sound more like an animal than the youngest daughter of the Proud Family.
'You should hurry up and eat, Richard,' Aura said from the head of the table. 'The Queen has asked to see you in an hour and I don't think you will have much free time after that, so eat as much as you can now.'
Lisbeth hugged Richard once more and then let him sit down at the table next to Lythia so he could eat. A maid quickly showed up and placed a tray of food in front of him before disappearing again. One thing he noticed about this mansion that was different than the palace was that the staff were hard to find. He knew they were around but he guessed Aura and the others preferred if they didn’t see them all the time.
'What does she want to see me for?' he asked after stuffing his mouth full of strange but delicious tasting sausage. 'I just talked to her yesterday evening.'
'You're possibly next in line to the throne, engaged to the crown princess of the Dark Elf nation, and her second cousin; so I'm sure there's a lot she could want to discuss with you. But today is mostly about stepping out into the public eye and showing that you are alright after being freed from captivity. Now eat up and get changed because we leave in twenty minutes.'
Richard groaned into his food and continued to stuff his mouth as Aura left to get herself ready. He sat there while Lisbeth tried to talk to both him and Lythia but there wasn't much conversation to be had that early after getting up. For the most part Richard was trying to figure out what kind of story had been spread about him just suddenly disappearing. It was apparent that they had told people that he had probably been kidnapped during the attack on the palace, but how exactly were they going to explain how he was suddenly back? He would have to remember to ask Aura about that later, just in case someone asked him about it.
After finishing his food he quickly dressed in some nice clothes that had been laid out for him by one of the maids and then left after saying goodbye to Lythia, Coni, and Lisbeth. He and Aura arrived at the palace a little while later and were immediately led to the throne room where Reiea was waiting for them after just having audience. Once they were led inside her personal guards quietly left, but Richard guessed they weren't too far away. Reiea did have a knack for getting kidnapped quite often so she was probably always watched.
'You're early,' Reiea said brightly as they entered the room and she took off the thin silver tiara on her head and placed it on the throne, 'I wasn't expecting you for another ten minutes.'
'Better to be early than late,' Aura answered and Reiea smiled.
'Very true. I trust everyone is well rested; it's going to be a long day for all of us. Before we meet with the Council of Lords to introduce Richard officially, I have something I would like to give you.'
Reiea reached behind the throne and pulled out a long and heavy looking sword and scabbard. She held it out towards Richard and he looked at it in confusion. 'What's this?'
'My mother had planned on giving this too you after the finals of the tournament, but that didn't become possible,' Reiea explained in a sad tone and Richard winced at the thought. 'It belonged to the Eternal Master and was left in the cave where he fought the Demon King. It's been in the royal vaults for a very long time and I think it belongs to you now.'
Richard extended a hand and grabbed hold of the hilt. He expected the weapon to be heavy but was surprised when it felt very light in his hand. It was around four and a half feet long and the hilt was encrusted with red gems and had gold inlaid on it. Holding it out in front of him he pulled back the hard black leather scabbard and looked at the blade, finding that it was made of some strange black metal that glinted in the sun like it was absorbing the light and melding it with the blade. For it being two thousand years old it was in amazing condition and didn't show a hint of rust or degradation.
'During an large battle during the Great War a star fell to the ground right in the middle of it,' Aura said and she sounded just like she did when she was giving a lecture in his history class. 'The Eternal Master took the metal that was left in the crater and had it fashioned into a blade for himself. It was originally going to be for decoration but General Roku found the metal was very light weight and extremely resilient, and he ended up using it as his main weapon. It's name is Dark Star.'
After listening to its origins Richard sheathed the blade once more and held it in his hands gently. 'That's cool and all, but why do I need the sword? I don't mean to sound ungrateful or anything, but with access to magic a sword sort of seems redundant.'
'Never underestimate the effect of a sword, even in a battle of magic,' Aura said and Reiea nodded with every word. 'Roku fused magic and sword into a powerful display of strength and prowess. It's part of what made him the hero he was. You are his blood, Richard, and we believe you should follow in his footsteps.'
'Besides, it looks pretty amazing,' Reiea added and Richard couldn't help but laugh.
Still not sure he should even have this piece of history, Richard slung the strap over his shoulder and positioned the sword so it was on his back with the hilt slightly tilted to the right of his head. He had to admit that he felt pretty bad ass wearing it. The fact that the sword was named was also pretty awesome. He only thought that happened in books and movies.
With that out of the way Richard's long and awkward day of being paraded around began. Their first stop was to the House of Lords to meet with the upper ruling class that worked directly under the crown. When he had first been told he would be meeting the Council of Lords and heard that where they met at was called the House of Lords, Richard had been expecting to find a room full of stuffy old men who only cared about themselves more than they did about their jobs. What he found instead was a group of middle aged women with a few men thrown in here and there pouring over maps, reports, and books.
They greeted Richard cordially and even had him sit in on their meeting as they met with some military generals to discuss the war effort at the border. The war had gotten even worse than what Richard had been told and the Council of Lords (mostly filled with Ladies) suspected another nation was supplying their enemy with high grade weapons and mercenaries. They had no solid proof but if they were right and the war escalated there was a possibility of another country joining the fighting against them. It was all pretty interesting to watch but Richard realized just how dire the situation was already. Their troops had already been pressed back from the border twice and the Council didn't know how much longer they could hold their positions against a continued attack.
After meeting with the Council Richard then found himself being dragged by Aura and Queen Reiea to an interview with the local News group. They were interested in writing a piece on him and his journey through the tournament before leaving to join the fight at the palace. Aura told him that it was mostly a fluff article meant to inspire the soldiers and normal populace during these hard times. He was asked a million different questions while a man sketched a picture of him and Aura sitting together to add with the article. When he was asked about his time in captivity Aura took over and explained that Richard was still dealing with the after effects and it was hard for him to discuss. The truth was that he just didn't know the information.
Apparently the story was that during the attack on the palace he was knocked unconscious during a fight while Daiya and Lythia were off saving Reiea and he had been captured by a band of criminals who had been there. They then held him for ransom but because of the war things grew complicated. Because Daiya and Lythia had just suddenly disappeared a few days ago it was decided that their cover story was that they had tracked down where Richard was being held and together they went in and freed him. Apparently this was a story the public would eat up because it showed a strong bond between family and the commitment between two people who were engaged.
After the interview they were able to have a small lunch at the palace before Richard met with the Arch-Bishop of the church. Even though he had no actual claim to the throne it still had to appear that he did, so the meeting with the Arch-Bishop was mainly about that. He was instructed on what was expected of him in his position and then handed a new cloak in a small ceremony that involved Reiea recognizing him as her current successor and handing him the cloak. The cloak was made from thin yet expensive looking material and was a deep purple with the royal seal sewn into it. It wouldn't replace his current cloak that had his family's seal and was only supposed to be worn when he was on official royal business. So basically he was only allowed to wear it when he was doing the things he was doing that day.
When Richard was able to speak with Aura alone for a moment he asked her what would happen if he was expected to take the throne, because he honestly didn't want it; it was just too much responsibility and not something that someone who lived most of his life on another planet should be doing. She explained that if that day ever came he would simply do the same thing she had done: turn it down for personal reasons. Not many people would be happy with that decision but it was his to make. The throne would then pass to the next person in line who would most likely be Coni. Richard wouldn’t mind her taking the throne; she was smart and strong and had a good sense of justice so she was the perfect candidate for it.
After meeting with the Arch-Bishop Richard then sat in while Reiea held audience. This was a time where citizens of the kingdom could come and bring problems before the crown in hopes of a resolution, so it was pretty interesting to watch. Most of the problems were trivial things and Reiea handled them like a pro, surprising Richard with her keen insight and problem solving skills. It was still hard to believe she was the same girl who slipped into his bed one night because she didn't want to sleep alone, and how she was always hanging onto him whenever they were around one another. She was growing into a strong and beautiful woman so fast that it was hard to keep up and Richard could only stand and watch in awe. It must have been the royal blood flowing through her blood that allowed her to change so quickly. He actually had to ask Aura if the girl really was only sixteen years old.
Once the last person had been taken care of the palace was closed down to the public and Richard was glad when he was told his day was over. It felt like he had been running around the entire city and all he wanted in that moment was a hot meal and a long bath to soak in. Reiea and Aura still had other matters to deal with and left, telling him to make himself at home in the palace until Aura was ready to return home for the evening. Richard took this opportunity to find a bath and clean himself up while the chef prepared him something delicious for dinner. The entire time he was in the bath the only thing he could think about was getting back to the academy and having his classes and school life protecting him from being dragged around on royal business. The end of this break couldn't come soon enough for him.
While he was sitting down to eat his delectable looking dinner a maid entered the room carrying a small silver tray with an envelope addressed to him on it. It was from Aura and it told him that she and Reiea were going to be working late that night so he was to head home without her and tell Lythia and Coni that she would be home late. So after he finished his meal he went out front and got into a carriage that took him through the city and back to the Proud Mansion. When he arrived the girls were in the middle of their own meal so Richard waited by a roaring fire in one of the many living rooms after he told an attendant to pass on the word that he had returned.
Lythia and Lisbeth came to join him after eating and they all sat by the fire and talked about what he had done that day. When he showed them the royal cloak he had been given Lisbeth grew very excited and asked him a million questions while Lythia glared at him from the other side of the couch. He would have to remember to tell her when they were alone that he wasn't actually going to assume the throne, because he was sure that's what was making her angry. She was born into the royal family while he had just been dropped right into the middle of it. If their roles had been reversed he would be pretty pissed that someone who wasn't truly related to him was next in line to the throne.
It wasn't until after midnight that Aura returned and she looked as exhausted as Richard felt. It was her first day as Reiea's personal advisor so it had probably been just as hard on her as it had been on him. She grabbed herself a large glass of wine and then sat down in a chair that faced the couch the three friends were sitting on, a tired and annoyed look on her face.
'Rough day?' Lisbeth asked and Aura nodded.
'Please tell me tomorrow won't be that bad,' Richard groaned and was really hoping for good news. He didn't know how much more of that he could take.
'There's only one thing on the agenda for tomorrow, but it will be just as tiring,' the blonde woman answered and then took a small sip of her red wine. 'We'll be travelling.'
'Travelling? Where?' Lythia asked as the conversation had suddenly piqued her interest.
'The Queen received a letter of invitation for King Dycoz to attend a private meeting on his country's stance in the war. He is reluctant to embroil his kingdom in the fighting and wants to meet with Reiea personally to discuss it. The problem is, we could really use their support and as they are our closest allies they would be able to help us protect our borders more securely. So with any luck we can convince him to join us.'
'And I have to go because of this?'
'Well, not really,' the woman admitted with a loud sigh and then fixed him with a glare. 'Your presence was also requested by him; probably so he can get to know his future son-in-law better. It wouldn't surprise me if this was Daiya's doing though. Her father really doesn't want her going back to the academy because of the war and I am sure she urged him to invite you, hoping that you would be able to help her out.'
'Wow! Lucky!' Lisbeth sighed heavily. 'I hear Elothia is really beautiful and their capital city, Dytholia is one of the gems of the continent!'
'Then I'm sure you'll enjoy it there,' Aura grinned and the first year's face lit up. 'The whole family is going so it wouldn't be right to just leave you alone in the mansion for a week's time.'
'Really? I get to go too! Thank you so much!' Lisbeth cried and rushed Aura and hugging her tightly as she squealed in delight. 'Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!'
'You're welcome,' Aura laughed and pushed the screaming girl off her, 'don't spill my wine, please.'
'Sorry. I'm going to go pack! I don't even know what I should bring!'
Lisbeth rushed out of the room and her voice could be heard as she ran down the hall, naming a hundred different things she thought she might need for the trip. Aura giggled softly and took another sip from her glass while Lythia rolled her eyes; but Richard was sure that deep down she was glad her best friend would be joining them. On the other hand, Richard didn't know what he should think about this trip. Sure, he was excited to see where Daiya lived and all, but he kind of felt awkward around her lately. After that almost kiss outside his apartment he wasn't sure what to make of their relationship. There was also that kiss on the cheek at the palace the night before that threw him for a loop. Yes, they were engaged and all, but that kind of a reaction was different from what he expected from her and he didn’t know what to make of it.
'Are you rethinking your decision?' Aura asked him and she must have noticed the confused look in his eyes as he stared at the crackling fire.
'No… not really,' he answered and looked towards his mother.
'Good, because there's no going back now. You will end up marrying Daiya and when she assumes her father's throne you will become the Prince of Elothia. It's not something to be taken lightly and I hope you took everything into consideration. This is your life now.'
'I know,' he sighed and Aura fixed him with a curious gaze. 'I just mean that I am aware of what I got myself into and I will stand by my decision. You guys are my family now so it was a no brainer.'
Aura smiled and stood up, draining what was left of her wine and setting the glass down on the table next to her chair. 'I'm going to go pack and get some rest. You two should do the same soon,' she said softly and then left the room.
Richard stayed by the fire for a little while longer before heading up to his room, his eyelids threatening to remain closed every time he blinked. He had intended to pack before going to sleep but when he got into his room he found a suitcase already prepared for him and filled with nice clothes and even his boxers from Earth. It sure was nice having someone else do these kinds of tasks for you, especially when you were dead tired. He just wished he could have helped; it didn't feel right making someone else do all the work all the time. At least he was free to get some sleep because of it that night.